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OVERLORD

Monday 1 January 2001

1939 - 1942

From the biginning of the war till the end of 1942 tha axis powers had 40 months of success. Germany was gaining in Europe, Italy in North Africa, and Japan in the Pacific.

In December 1941 the Americans joined in the war and the tide started changing.

From the end of 42 till the spring of 44 was the grand counter offensive. The Germans suffered their first great defeat Stalingrad, between November 42 and February 43. In November 42 there was the landing in North Africa . This was code named Operation torch. By May 1943 Africa had fallen to the allies. In Julv 43 there was a second successfull landing in Sicilly, There were now two fronts.in Europe. Advancing in Italy was very difficult and it wasn’t till June the 5th 1944 that Rome was taken.

Through the summer of 43 the Russians started pushing back the Germans. The Russians kept calling for a second front in the west, but before a front could be established the Atlantic wall had to be breached.
Atlantic Wall

The Atlantic wall was not a wall of bricks , but a line of strong points spaced along the coast from the Atlantic to Holland. The strength of the line wasn’t uniform but strongest at certain strategic points. The strongest point of all was at Calais where the Germans expected a landing attempt.

In 1940 the Germans were planning to invade England and so had no need of a wall as such. With the entry of the Americans into the war came the possibily of an allied invasion into Europe and the wall was started. At the time of the landings there were approximately 1500 defence works defended by 300 000 men.

A project of this scale isn’t completed overnight, and the work that started in 42 was still continuing in june 44. The constuction was undertaken by a German construction company called TODT. TODT was responsible for the construction of the Seigfreid line as well. The work was subcontracted out to German Belgian or French constuction companies. In Normandy half the workers were french and half were prisoners, Russians ,Tcheqes or Poles.

On the 450 Km of coast from the Seine to Mnt St Michel there were 40 Batteries and 1000 defensive positions using 700,000 Cubic metres of concrete. All this concrete went into such constructions as, casemates, fire command posts, ammunition stores, personnell shelters, tobruks, radar platforms, arclight platforms, and VI rocket launching pads.

TODT had formulated standard plans to facilitate the work. This is why most of the remaining works are similar. The designs did however volve and there are also recognisable differences between batteries manned by the navy or army. The first gun emplacements were open platforms giving 5600 angle of fire. It soon became evident that these were too vulnerableto air attack. The design was changed to the casemate that we can still see in many places. The navy insisted on well camouflaged, rounded casemates built close to the sea while the army were happy with sqareer casemates and wanted them out of sight of the sea. The method of costruction changed aswell. The early constructions were built by pouring the concrete into a wooden mold but as wood became scarce cocrete blocks were used to build the frame then concrete was poured into this.

ROMMELL’ S ARRIVAL

Originally , the atlantic wall was the responsability of Gl Von Rundstedt.

He had fought in the first war and his alliegance was to the german empire rather than Hitler. Von Rundsedt looked on the Atlantic wall as a bluff to put off the allies. If the allies did attempt a landing , his plan was to attack the bridgehead with panzer divisions held inland away from naval fire. Under his direction, by the end of 1943 there had been 8000 defence works finished. At this time Rommell was given command of the coast from holland to the Loire. His ideas were opposite to Rundsdedt and based on sound experience in Africa. He knew that it was imperative to stop the allies landing at all. He set to work reinforcing the wall . Rommell concentrated more on laying thousands of obstuctions and small defences rather than large batteries. He started a programme of laying sea mines, beach obstructions, land mines, anti aircraft posts. Where the land favoured it he flooded the region behind the beach. In the event it was thèse defences, instigated by Rommell that caused the most problems to the allies.) Rommell also realised that the callibre of the German soldiers on the coast were very low and asked for reinforcements.Most of the soldiers had been wounded, were aged,or pressed volunteeres from eastern Europe. He was granted an infantry div of well equipped soldiers. These were positioned at Omahah beach. This effectively doubled the resistence on Omahah beach and the allies remained ignorant of their existance.
OVERLORD
Inspite of the Atlantic wall, the only way the allies could acheive victory was by staging a sea born invasion somewhere along the wall. The German high command believed it would be at Calais where the channel was narrowest. The COSSACK invasion committee decided on the bay of the Seine as the beaches were favourable and the region could be cut off from reinforcements by bombing the Seine and Loire bridges.

The plan was in 5 stages.
1.Parachute drops at each extremity of the landing area, to protect the flanks.
2.Aerial bombing of caostal defences.
3.Approach of fleet. Minesweeping of 10 channels. Naval bombardement.
4 Landing of assault troops to form bridgehead.
5.Installation of 5 breakwaters. then 2 artificial ports at Omahah and Arromanches.
After the establishment of the bridgehead the British were to move on Caen to pullin the german armour. At the same time the Americans were to take cherbourg and move south then east to take the germans behind.

PREPARATIONS

It sounds simple enough, but apart from the almost insurmountable difficultiesmthey had on the day there were months of preparation.
More than 5 million aeial photogranhs were collected at Keel University. These showed positions of guns and troops and the dammage inflicted by bombing raids.
Aerial photos couldn’t show the calibre of guns. This information wqs provided by the french resistance.
Aerial photos couldn’ t show wether a beach was suitable to drive a tank on either. The resistance couldn’ t help there as it requiered specialist knowledge to survey the beaches.

All the beaches landed on, had been reasonably thouroughly surveyed by a team of three men. In fact they visited over thirty beaches on the north French coast so that if captured they wouldn’t know which beaches had been chosen.

On moonless nights all through the winter and spring of 43 44 they were taken to within a couple of hundred yards of the toast then swam ashore. Once ashore they took cores of the sand for analysis, charted the gradiants, probed for mines, and charted special obstacles.
Thanks to their efforts, there were special tanks , on most beaches to cope with such obstacle as tank traps and anti tank walls.

BOMBING RAIDS
From the end of 43, tactical air command made bomb attacks on submarine bases, radar installations and batteries. Throughout the spring of 44 bombing raids were carried out roads and railways, and also the bridges of the Loire Seine and Meuse. This was to isolate the invasion area from german reinforcements.

EQUIPMENT

There was an incredible amount of equipment to prepare. On D day the allies had at theuir disposal 7000 ships , including 4000 landing craft, 20,000 vehicles, including 1000 tanks, 11000planes1 2,500 gliders , and 150,000 men.

There were 80 diferent types of landing craft. There were craft for tanks, infantry,vehicles, .. There were landing craft that could cross the channel under their own power and those that were carried in ships then put to sea at 15 miles from the coast.
There were several special tanks devised to carry out certain tasks. Th most spectacular and in the event least usefull was the amphibien DD tank. These were Sherman tanks fitted with a canvas skirt to allow them to float.
They also had a propeler to allow them to move through the water under their own power.

Another type of special was tha BOBIN tank. This unrolled a wooden road over soft areas in the sand.
The CROCODILE had flame thrower in stead of a gun. It carried 1800 litres of napalm in a trailer. The crocodile was used to flush out pill boxes.

There were also tanks incorporating bridges , flail tanks, for clearing mines, and tanks carrying bundles of logs, to fill in tank traps.

DATE

While all this equipment was being made or collected from all round the world, thedate hadn’t yet been fixed . Stalin was pressing all the time for a second front and the offensive had been projected for May. When Eisenhower studded the plan he realised they didn’t have enough landing craft to carry all the men needed. He postponed the landings till June, to allow time to prepare more craft.

The final date was decided by the tides and moon. The beaches were strewn with obstacles and spikes, some with mines on. A landing at high tide would put the landing craft at risk of being ripped open. Landing at low tide would leave a beach sometimes 500 Yds wide to cross under german fire. Eisenhower and Montgomery chose to land at low tide and to land tanks and a special demolition force ahead of the infantry, to clear the obstacles.
The navy wanted to approach the coast under cover of night, but both the navy and airforces needed an hour of daylight to bombard the german defences. The parachutists wanted moonlight to help their drops. The only dates that satisfied all these conditions were the 5th 6th & 7th of June. The 5th was chosen as D. day with the 6th and 7th in reserve. H hour was fixed at 6:50 for Utah in the west and 7.50 for Sword in the east, as the tide moves along the coast.
EBARKATION

Throughout May, in camps in southern England, men were practicing assaults on mock ups of their objectives. Once detailed breifing started, the camps were sealed off. Troops and material were allowed in but the only way out was to France in a landing craft. Mail was stopped and travel restricted. An area along the south caost was sealed off, and even foreign embasies found that they coudn’t communicate with their country.
On friday the 2nd June the men started filing into their ships, and some large battleships set sail from Northern Ireland and Scotland. The weather had been fine throughout Mtay but on the 2nd of June the meteorologists forecast a system of depressions aproaching from the Atlantic. On June 3rd the forecast high winds and low cloud with poor visibilityfor the 5th, 6th and 7th.

This caused many hours of agonised debate for Eisenhower and his advisers. The men in their ships had now been told the actual names of their objectives, The camps were allready being filled with follow up troops. It would be impossible to maintain security if the landing postponed for two weeks.

Eisenhower decided not to make a decision. He ordered the chips sailing south to sailnorth for twelve hours, and the men in the landing ships to wait.
The weather was just as bad the 4th, so a decision was put off till the morning of the 5th. The choice was between gambling a landing in bad weather , or cancelling the landings for that year, perhaps for ever.
At a meeting at 4 a.m. on the 5th Eisenhower launched the invasion with the words O.K. we’ll go
The people of southern England wen’t informed of this decision but they knew it had been taken when in the night of the 5th, they heard the largest fleet of aircraft ever assembled droning overhead en route for Normandy.

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